* review of natalie scenters-zapico’s the verging cities

 

* the verging cities *
* the verging cities *

This week’s poem, “After I Read Your Obituary,” is by fellow CantoMundista Natalie Scenters-Zapico. The poem comes from her collection The Verging Cities which I was fortunate enough to get to review for The Volta Blog. In my review, I focus on the phrase “Let me learn you how” (found early in the collection) as a key to open up the powerful reading experience Scenters-Zapico has worked out for us.

This week’s poem provides an example of what I mean in the way the speaker’s experience with reading an obituary comes to life for her and the reader through an expanding conceit and attention to detail. As the poem develops, so does the speaker’s engagement with the reality of the dead and the worlds that engagement creates.

Read my review of Natalie Scenters-Zapico’s The Verging Cities here.

After I Read Your Obituary – Natalie Scenters-Zapico

you crawl into bed with my husband
and me. Your body is smaller
than I remember; I hush your voice

when you complain: the aloe-vera
in the pot is made of plastic.
Your breathing grows, a weed

in monsoon—you whisper: mother,
father, and sister fell open as birds
in their chairs when they were shot

at dinner. You show me how
you dove under the table, felt specks
of their blood on your lips before

seeing the scuffs on your father’s leather
shoes. You tell me, you buried
your family in the walls of an abandoned

restaurant, so you could travel to my home
to measure the depth of my new weather-proof
windows. With the tip of the plastic

succulent I rub your swollen ears.
I tell you: in this new country I am worse
than the city of thousands dead,

I am a wound red with iodine. My husband
wakes and I beg him for water
I’ve never known to taste so clean.

***

See you next Friday!

José

* Francisco X. Alarcón: poem & review

* canto hondo *
* canto hondo *

Happy to share my latest review for the Volta Blog: a meditation on Francisco X. Alarcón’s latest collection, Canto Hondo. In my review, I discuss Alarcón’s engagement with Federico García Lorca’s ideas on cante jondo (deep song). Alarcón delves into García Lorca’s homage to his Andalusian influences to create his own deep song tempered by his own distinct poetic line, a line I describe as being “as alive and intimate as a nerve or a gasp.”

The review may be read here.

To get a sense of what I mean by the above, I’ve chosen this week’s poem from Alarcón’s From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche (University of Arizona Press). Following the poet’s line breaks, I like how the reader is invited into the thought and experience of each stanza. I’m also moved by the choice of moving from a four-line stanza to a three-line stanza, right at the line “…you’re home’s/nowhere -.” This change in form mirrors a change in the drama and tone of the poem; the stanzas that follow put forth their own hope and response to the dilemma of “those who have lost everything.”

Enjoy!

To Those Who Have Lost Everything – Francisco X. Alarcón

crossed
in despair
many deserts
full of hope

carrying
their empty
fists of sorrow
everywhere

mouthing
a bitter night
of shovels
and nails

“you’re nothing
you’re shit
your home’s
nowhere”—

mountains
will speak
for you

rain
will flesh
your bones

green again
among ashes
after a long fire

started in
a fantasy island
some time ago

turning
Natives
into aliens

 ***

Happy amonging!

José

* chapbooks celebration reading

As promised, I have uploaded another reading from our time in Texas back in April. I had hoped to share videos of me reading from both Corpus Christi Octaves and The Wall in order to celebrate their respective anniversaries. Sadly, the reading from the Octaves was severely crashed by seagulls and sun. The seagulls kept cawing over the words (these were poetic seagulls, mind you) and the sun kept me squinting the whole time. I also ended up bursting out laughing at the seagulls mid-reading. It was a mess! But it did lend itself to this iconic screenshot where the inspiration for the cover (artwork by Andrea Schreiber) can be seen:

* mirador mirando *
* mirador mirando *

All being said, we had fun! Below is a reading from The Wall that came out, only minor seagull interference. The text of the poems read are also below:

Key Dream – Jose Angel Araguz

In which I guide the metal, shave it down, follow the make of another key snapped where one would hold it, and when done, turn to face a door I remember from a neighborhood I never lived in but visited once to hear stories of my father, a door that is locked when I try the handle so that I pull out the new key, and when that jams, begin talking to myself, and stop only to lift a key ring from my side, slide the new key next to a hundred others, and let my arm fall, the key ring hitting my side in a dark chuckle.

Ocean Dream – Jose Angel Araguz

In which I am pushed down into the sand only to look up and see a man running into the waves, his legs then breaking into waves, his body breaking into waves, something of my father’s face breaking into waves, until all I am left with is that clash of water and sun that makes metaphor unnecessary.

Concrete – Jose Angel Araguz

Now I’m as old as my father was
When less than a year was left him (Carl Dennis)

At this point, my father had been in jail long enough to be used to concrete, his walls, floors, and sky the same color as the memories I have of him, a color that does not deepen despite the ink and pages, a color that comes out in the weather only when the clouds are full and waiting to let fall nothing one can hold onto.

***

See you Friday!

Jose

 

* another excerpt from Reasons (not) to Dance

* holy dancin' castles *
* holy dancin’ castles *

As promised, here is a second installment celebrating the release of my chapbook Reasons (not) to Dance!

Above is another of the ink paintings by Andrea Schreiber that was nominated as a possible cover. This ink painting was specifically inspired by the piece “Spinster,” the text of which is below.

Enjoy!

Spinster – José Angel Araguz 

You want me to tell you about life here. There was a castle where a woman was buried within a wall as a sacrifice. They knew nothing about her except she loved to dance. Later, there was a law against dancing. You knew when someone was breaking the law because the castle would begin to shake. Mother called the woman a saint: only someone who was pure could root out those who wronged. The night my father left, the castle crumbled down. Granted, this is only partly true. It was told to me and I tell you, not because I believe in dancing castles. I believe you have come here wanting stories, and all I have learned are reasons not to dance.

*

Copies of Reasons (not) to Dance can be purchased here.

Happy (not) dancing!

Jose

* tribute: franz wright

Fathers – Franz Wright

Oh build a special city
for everyone who wishes
to die, where
they might help one another out
and never feel ashamed
maybe make a friend,
etc.
You
who created the stars and the sea
come down, come down
in spirit, fashion
a new heart
in me, create
me again-
Homeless in Manhattan
the winter of your dying
I didnt have a lot of time
to think about it, trying
to stay alive
To me
it was just the next interesting thing you would do-
that is how cold it was
and how often I walked to the edge of the actual
river to join you

***

that is how cold it was –

The turn into this line alone changed the landscape of poetic possibilities for me. I remember holding the book – Walking to Martha’s Vineyard – as if struck by lightning. How to make an already intimate tone cut deeper? It was summer 2011 and I had been working on the series of poems that became my first chapbook, The Wall. There’s a certain bracing of the soul that comes from great poetry. Franz Wright braced me to begin the work of risk and honesty that I continue on this day. *

Wright’s recent passing stunned me, yet I was warmed to see on social media just how many of my compatriots found communion with him, either through reading his work or engaging with him in person or correspondence. I did end up sending him a copy of The Wall, and he sent back a revelation of a letter. For this kindness, and for the earned light of his work, I say thank you.

On Earth – Franz Wright

Resurrection of the little apple tree outside

my window, leaf-
light of late
in the April
called her eyes, forget
forget
but how
How does one go
about dying?
Who on earth
is going to teach me—
The world is filled with people
who have never died

Happy earthing!

Jose

* To read more about the making of The Wall, go here.

photo source: iO Poetry

* gabriel garcia marquez: a lyrical alignment

This week’s poem is a lyrical alignment from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s prologue to his short story collection Strange Pilgrims.

In his prologue – entitled “Why Twelve, Why Stories, Why Pilgrims” – Marquez details the journey of his stories, how some have traveled with him for years and others arrived unexpected. I remember marveling at the openness with which he shared his patience with the ineffable act of writing as well as the depth of his memory. He finishes this “story behind the stories” with a short account of a dream he had. It is this account that I’ve decided to lyrically aligned. What moves me most about Marquez’s account of his dream is the innocence of the revelation on mortality he arrives at by the end.

I had a similar revelation while watching Terminator 2 as a kid. Another dream, this one on film: the main character, Sarah Connor, imagines herself standing at a chain-link fence, watching kids play. The entire scene is without sound. Then a nuclear explosion goes off in the distance, which she seems to be the only one aware of. The viewer watches as the blast from the explosion lays waste first to the playground, kids,  and then to Sarah, who screams to herself in silence. Young, I replayed this scene over and over before I slept, each time trying to imagine the nothing implied by the silence and black screen at the scene’s end.

Looking back on it, Marquez’s dream of a party is a better scenario 🙂

* cosas de rosas *
* cosas de rosas *

“…I dreamed I was attending my own funeral,” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

a lyrical alignment from Marquez’s “Strange Pilgrims”

walking with a group of friends
dressed in solemn mourning
but in a festive mood. We all
seemed happy to be together.
And I more than anyone else,
because of the wonderful
opportunity that death afforded me
to be with my friends from Latin America,
my oldest and dearest, the ones
I had not seen in so long. At the end
of the service, when they began to disperse,
I attempted to leave too, but one of them
made me see
with decisive finality
that as far as I was concerned,
the party was over. – You’re the only one
who can’t go – he said. Only then
did I understand
that dying
means never being
with friends again.

***

Happy againing!

Jose

* the 200th post: a cento

Well, it had to happen: we’ve reached the 200th post on this blog!

To celebrate, I decided to create a cento – a patchwork poem made by selecting lines from other people’s poems to create a singular poem (citing one’s sources, of course) – by going through all the posts published since I started this blog and selecting a line from every 10th post.

200 posts = 20 lines!

Eek!

* a mouse *
* a mouse *

Some finer points:

To stick strictly to the every 10th post guideline, I did find myself snatching a snippet or two from a post that had no poem in it. So a “line” was taken from a paragraph or two.

I’m happy to only end up in the piece a handful of times (and with good company, no less 🙂 ).

Also: I had a lot of fun putting this together. Blogging can feel like a mess sometimes, but the accumulative effect is fun. Approaching past posts for the archival potential was inspiring.

And then there’s all you good people who stop by, read, and comment! More than anything, I am humbled by the community this blog has put me in touch with. I started this off as a reader’s blog, and I’m happy to have a forum to share not only my own work but work that illuminates my world and that I hope illuminates yours. Thanks!

Cento for the 200th post

I must learn from the stars
To find out if I might love.
Under these, under our skies.
the colors of my living
will sometimes waft between my lashes
This unwelcome act of reducing
On those nights, the poet can say they tried, and did well.
to fall asleep
“I’m so tired of driving into the sky.”
I would like to step out of my heart
stumble, welcomed each day by
Horses down in the meadow, just a few degrees above snow.
instead of frost, and the tension I felt
selected to be
something imagined, not recalled?
rigid edges and all, and lines still show up
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
They slept just like the rest of us,
like sunken leaves in a pond,
quoted in the margins

***

Happy quoting!

Jose

p.s. Sources for the Cento:

  1. Evening on the Farm – Bert Meyers
  2. Brown Penny – WB Yeats
  3. Willow – Anna Akhmatova
  4. XIX (from The Wall) – Jose Angel Araguz
  5. An Umbrella from Piccadilly – Jaroslav Seifert
  6. Onions – Jose Angel Araguz
  7. “on poetry readings” TFI post 2/15/13
  8. The Devil on His Wedding Night – Jose Angel Araguz
  9. “from the car: verse & such” TFI post 6/7/13
  10. Lament – Rainer Maria Rilke
  11. “Dog-eared” – Jose Angel Araguz
  12. On the Night of the First Snow, Thinking About Tennessee – Charles Wright
  13. Prosody 101 – Linda Pastan
  14. “quick post: CantoMundo news!” TFI post 3/19/14
  15. Epilogue – Robert Lowell
  16. If They Hand Your Remains to Your Sister in a Chinese Takeout Box — Jamaal May
  17. Sad Steps – Philip Larkin
  18. Going Home – Phoebe Tsang
  19. A Winter Night – Tomas Tranströmer
  20. Evening in Matamoros – Jose Angel Araguz

* stitching along with valerie wallace

I came across this week’s poem – “Winged” by Valerie Wallace – reading through the latest issue of Rust + Moth.

I was taken in by the Auden reference to the “old masters” from his poem Musee des Beaux Arts. I find the reference suiting since the impetus for Wallace’s poem comes from Alexander McQueen, whom I don’t know too much about except that his singular designs had him working with Bjork and Lady Gaga as well as designing Kate Middleton’s wedding dress (more to the point: Alexander McQueen the person didn’t design Middleton’s wedding dress – because he was dead. His label did – more specifically Sarah Burton, the creative director since his death).

In Wallace’s poem, the corset in question is taken on both conceptually as well as visually in the structure of the poem. The couplets themselves work down the poem like stitches as the speaker goes further into breaking and fraying as much meaning from each word “Be/hold balsa ribbons” is an especially powerful revelatory reading moment.

Enjoy the poem below and check out the rest of the issue of Rust + Moth here.

* mid-flight *
* mid-flight *

Winged – Valerie Wallace

—Corset from the Alexander McQueen collection No. 13, spring/summer 1999

The old masters
got them wrong,

their locations, at
least. Not pinned

at the spine like a moth
or the bone blade spurt.

From the tiny bloom
of sternum I swept

over shoulders, fanned,
arc’d. Slit for heavy arms.

How on earth do you
expect to walk in them? Ha.

Be/hold balsa ribbons
planed, laced, bindings,

not for flight but descent.
How will you care for me,

keep me from fire.
It sings, you know,

Consecration.
Consolation,

a promise to be ever
sewn into the sun.

***

Happy sunning!

Jose

p.s. For more info on the McQueen piece go here.

And for more poems from Wallace’s Be/spoke project, go here.

* holding light & dark via brad leithauser

Some poems move me for their ability to hold contradiction and multitudes of possibility.

This week’s poem, “A Candle” by Brad Leithauser, does just that. The phrasing starts in debate mode (“your point of view”) but quickly rises from it into suspended thought via imagery. Through the singular rhyme scheme’s quick turns, the poem leaves the reader with the image of a candle delivered *ahem* light-ly but whose undertones are dark. The suspension of thought comes, for me, in terms of the phrase “I am thinking of” which doesn’t so much pin down a bias as much as let the “single fellow” exist between “love” and “hell.” Enjoy!

* the single fellow *
* the single fellow *

A Candle – Brad Leithauser

According to
your point of view,
it stands for love –
or hell posed starkly.
I’m thinking of
the single fellow
who hunches darkly,
as though with shame,
there at the blue-yellow
center of the flame.

(from The Mail from Anywhere)

**

Happy 2015, y’all! Here’s wishing you good words and reading in the new year!

Happy centering!

Jose

* quick post: Blue Mesa Review Issue no. 30 up!

Just a quick post to announce the release of Blue Mesa Review’s Issue no. 30 which includes my poem “Don’t Look Now I Might Be Mexican” which placed 3rd in BMR’s Poetry Contest.

Check out the poem (with audio!) here.

This particular piece has been 10 years in the making. A lot of living and learning – both via books as well as cultural and emotional understanding – was undergone to get to the final draft. I am grateful to have it out in the world in such a fine forum.

Thank you to judge Carmen Gimenez Smith and the good folks at Blue Mesa Review! And congratulations to the other winners!

See you Friday!

Jose